Every month, I try to mark off at least one weekend day as a No Plans Day. During that day, I do what might otherwise be considered “nothing;” I read, I nap, maybe I rewatch a favourite movie or TV show, and I spend a lot of time staring into space and just, like, thinking.
If I don’t get that kind of day on the schedule often enough, I feel it—which is why I try to prioritise my No Plans Days as often as I can.
These kinds of days are what people tend to call “mental health days,” except I frame them as “no plans days” because the name makes it very clear whether or not I’m actually taking one. But putting them on the schedule proactively—instead of getting so bogged down in work and plans and obligations that I kind of end up taking a “I can’t do any more work this afternoon” Thursday followed by a “oh crap now I have to make up the work I didn’t get done” Saturday—helps me stay even-keeled in a world that is constantly tipping us towards burnout.
SELF recently ran a post on how to take a successful mental health day, and they also suggest planning your mental health days in advance:
In an ideal world, mental health days would be something you automatically work into your schedule to prevent you from getting to a place where you desperately need a break, David Klow, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Chicago’s Skylight Counseling Centre, tells SELF. We’d notice signs of work fatigue early and, instead of pushing through it, proactively take care of our mental health, including the occasional day off filled with restoration and self-care.
While some of us might have enough vacation time (or freelance flexibility) to take mental health days during our work week, planning mental health days in advance means you can schedule them for days when you don’t have to work. That way you can use your holiday time for an actual holiday, which is equally important to staving off burnout.
That said, if you need a mental health day that hasn’t already been scheduled, you can absolutely use sick leave to cover it—assuming you have sick leave, of course. It’s also worth noting that many mental health conditions can’t be planned for in advance; depression and anxiety flare-ups happen, and sometimes you can’t control when you need to take some time off.
But if you can block off a full day every month for mental health and self-care, get it on the calendar. Because sometimes the best time to take a mental health day is before you need to take one.